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Cinnamon

by Bea Heller, DC, MS, QME

Pharmaceutical name: Ramulus Cinnamomi Cassiae
Family: lauraceae
Chinese name: Gui Zhi
Common name: cinnamon twig, cassia twig, sweet wood

The dried inner bark of the shoots and the oil distilled from the bark and leaves are used. The outer, corklike layer of bark is scraped off and the strips are left to dry. As they dry, they curl into the "quills" we know as cinnamon sticks.

Properties

Acrid, sweet and warm. In Chinese medicine, cinnamon helps release the Exterior and Disperses Cold. Good for Kidney Yang Deficiency. This condition is characterized by intolerance to cold; cold extremities; weakness and soreness of the lower back and knees; lack of libido; polyuria; loose stools; and/or wheezing.

Main Constituents

The essential oil of cinnamon bark (max. 4%) is dominated by the two phenylpropanoids cinnamaldehyde (3-phenyl-acrolein, 65%-75%) and eugenol [4-(1-propene-3-yl)-2-methoxy-phenol, 5%-10%]. Other phenylpropanoids (safrole, coumarin [0.6%] cinnamic acid esters), mono- and sesquiterpenes, although occurring only in traces, do significantly influence the taste of cinnamon. Another trace component relevant for the quality is 2-heptanone (methyl-n-amyl-ketone).

From cinnamon leaves, another essential oil (1%) can be obtained, consisting mainly of eugenol (70%-95%) and can be used as a substitute for clove. Small amounts (1%-5%) of cinnamaldehyde, benzyl benzoate, linalool and B-caryophyllene also have been found.

A completely different composition is found in the essential oil of cinnamon root bark; in this case, camphor (60%) dominates. This oil is not used commercially.

In cinnamon fruits ("cassia buds," "cinnamon buds"), the main components are trans-cinnamyl acetate and B-caryophyllene.

History

Cinnamon is mentioned in one of the earliest books on Chinese botanical medicine, dated 2,700 B.C. It was so highly treasured that it was considered more precious than gold. The history of the trade of cinnamon, from China to Indonesia, Africa, Rome, Egypt and Greece via a sea route, is a fascinating topic in economics, religion, politics and medicine. This is the history of the cultures of the world.

Some believe that burning cinnamon in incense will promote high spirituality and aid in healing. Some people also believe it can stimulate the passions of a male. The essential oil often is seen spiritually as used for protection.

The 12th-century German abbess and herbalist, Hildegard of Bingen, recommended it as "the universal spice for sinuses" and to treat colds, flu, cancer and "inner decay and slime." The Hebrews and others used cinnamon and cassia in religious ceremonies. In the Bible, Moses used it in holy anointing oil. The Romans believed cinnamon's fragrance to be sacred and burned it at funerals. The mythological Phoenix was said to have built its nest out of cinnamon, as well as spikenard and myrrh. Cinnamon is one of the ingredients in the Egyptian Kyphi incense blend, and was used during the mummification process.

Uses

1. Fights tooth decay: "Cinnamon is an antiseptic that helps kill the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease" - Daniel B. Mowrey, PhD, author of The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine.

2. Clears up urinary-tract infections: One German study showed that cinnamon "suppresses completely" the cause of most urinary-tract infections (Escherichia coli bacteria).

3. Allows diabetics to use less insulin: Some studies have shown that cinnamon helps people with diabetes metabolize sugar better. Researchers discovered that cinnamon reduces the amount of insulin necessary for glucose metabolism in patients with type II diabetes. "One-eighth of a teaspoon of cinnamon triples insulin efficiency," according to James A. Duke, PhD, a botanist retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and author of The CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Dr. Duke suggests people with adult-onset diabetes discuss cinnamon's benefits with their doctor. Taking 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon with each meal may help control blood sugar levels.

Cinnamon might not only stimulate insulin receptors, but also inhibit an enzyme that inactivates them, thus significantly increasing cells' ability to use glucose. A 2003 study included 60 Pakistani volunteers with type II diabetes who were not taking insulin. Even 1 gram per day (approximately 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon) produced an approximately 20% drop in blood sugar; cholesterol and triglycerides also were lowered. When daily cinnamon was stopped, blood sugar levels began to increase.

A study published in the February 2004 issue of Hormone Metabolism Research showed that when rats fed a high-fructose diet also were given cinnamon extract, their ability to respond to and utilize glucose (blood sugar) improved so much that it was the same as that of rats on a normal (control) diet.


"Cinnamon is mentioned in one of the earliest books on Chinese botanical medicine, dated 2,700 B.C. It was so highly treasured that it was considered more precious than gold. The history of the trade of cinnamon, from China to Indonesia, Africa, Rome, Egypt and Greece via sea route is a fascinating topic in economics, religion, politics and medicine. This is the history of the cultures of the world."


4. Antioxidant capacity: Cinnamon is so powerful an antioxidant that when compared to six other antioxidant spices (anise, ginger, licorice, mint, nutmeg and vanilla) and the chemical food preservatives BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), and propyl gallate, it prevented oxidation more effectively than all the other spices (except mint) and the chemical antioxidants.

5. Also helps cholesterol: In lab studies, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, and turmeric have all shown promise in enhancing insulin's action, writes researcher Alam Khan, PhD, with the NWFP Agricultural University in Peshawar, Pakistan. His study appeared in Diabetes Care.

Cinnamon can remove artery-damaging free radicals from the blood and improve function of small blood vessels. (Onions, garlic, Korean ginseng, and flaxseed have the same effect. Studies with rabbits and rats show that fenugreek, curry, mustard seeds and coriander also have cholesterol-improving effects.)

Patients had 23%-30% reductions of triglyceride levels in their 40-day tests. Those taking the most cinnamon had the best levels. In groups taking cinnamon pills, blood cholesterol levels also went down, ranging from 13% to 26%; LDL cholesterol, also known as "bad" cholesterol, went down by 10% to 24% in only the 3- and 6-gram groups.

6. A good source of calcium and fiber: Cinnamon is an excellent source of the trace mineral manganese and a very good source of dietary fiber, iron and calcium. Both calcium and fiber can bind to bile salts and help remove them from the body. By removing bile, fiber helps to prevent the damage that certain bile salts can cause to colon cells, thereby reducing the risk of colon cancer. When bile is removed by fiber, the body must break down cholesterol in order to make new bile. This process can help to lower high cholesterol levels, which can be helpful in preventing atherosclerosis and heart disease. For sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome, the fiber in cinnamon also might provide relief from constipation or diarrhea.

7. Anti-clotting actions: The cinnaldehyde in cinnamon helps prevent unwanted clumping of blood platelets by inhibiting the release of an inflammatory fatty acid called arachidonic from platelet membranes and reducing the formation of an inflammatory messaging molecule called thromboxane A2.

8. Antimicrobial activity: In laboratory tests, growth of yeasts Candida that were resistant to the commonly used antifungal medication fluconazole often was stopped by cinnamon extracts. Eugenol and cinnamaldehyde are two very important terpenoids found in cinnamon. Cinnamaldehyde and cinnamon oil vapors act as potent antifungal agents.

In a study published in the August 2003 issue of the International Journal of Food Microbiology, the addition of a few drops of cinnamon essential oil to 100 ml (approximately 3 ounces) of carrot broth, which was then refrigerated, inhibited the growth of the foodborne pathogenic Bacillus cereus for at least 60 days.

A Japanese animal study revealed that cinnamon also might help prevent ulcers.

9. Cinnamon's scent boosts brain function: Research by Dr. P. Zoladz, presented April 24, 2004, at the annual meeting of the Association for Chemoreception Sciences in Sarasota, Fla., found chewing cinnamon-flavored gum or smelling cinnamon enhanced study participants' cognitive processing. Cinnamon improved participants' scores on tasks related to attentional processes, virtual recognition memory, working memory and visual-motor speed while working on a computer-based program. Participants were exposed to four odorant conditions: no odor, peppermint odor, jasmine, and cinnamon, with cinnamon emerging the clear winner in producing positive effects on brain function.

10. Fighting allergies: The diterpenes found in cinnamon oil have shown antiallergenic activity.

11. Miscellaneous: Cinnamon makes a nice nontoxic bug repellent when sprinkled in the kitchen cabinets (in large amounts it even keeps away fire ants as long as it is freshly applied around their mounds).

Dosages

In foods, simply season to taste. For people with diabetes, 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon per meal may help control blood sugar levels.

To brew a stomach-soothing tea, use 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of powdered herb per cup of boiling water. Steep 10 to 20 minutes. Drink up to three cups a day.

Cautions/Contraindications

  • In powdered form, culinary amounts of cinnamon are nontoxic, although allergic reactions are possible.
  • Cinnamon oil may cause redness and burning of the skin. Taken internally, it can cause nausea, vomiting and possibly even kidney damage. Don't ingest cinnamon oil.
  • Chewing of cinnamon gum or use of cinnamon flavored toothpaste can cause inflammation of the mouth and lead to precancerous growth.
  • Cinnamon should not be used in a bath, as it can irritate mucus membranes.
  • Use with caution during pregnancy or excessive menstruation.

Potentially toxic compounds in cinnamon bark are found primarily in the lipid-soluble fractions and are present at very low levels in water-soluble cinnamon extracts, which have the insulin-enhancing compounds.


Resources
  1. Chen J, Chen T. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. Art of Medicine Press, 2004:447-449.
  2. Bensky D, Gamble A. Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica. Eastland Press, 1993:29-30.
  3. Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum). MotherNature.com Health Encyclopedia [online].
  4. Click to view it online.
  5. Ethnobotanical Leaflets. SIUC College of Science (Web journal): www.siu.edu/~ebl/leaflets/cinna.htm.
  6. www.organicfood.co.uk/herbs/cinnamon.html.
  7. www.mccormick.com/content.cfm?id=8202.
  8. Spices: Exotic Flavors and Medicines. Part of the UCLA Special History Collection - Medicinal Spices Exhibit: Click to view it online.
  9. www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/.
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